City Hall: Council Approves New Renter Protections

A homebuyer sat on the steps smoking a cigarrette.

City councilmembers unanimously passed five bills on June 18, providing new protections for renters affected by the economic hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Major measures contained in the bills include the extension of the City’s moratorium on evictions until 60 days after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s state-of-emergency declaration expires and the waiving of any fees for tenants late on rent if they can demonstrate COVID-related financial hardship.

The bills, part of the Emergency Housing Protection Act introduced by Councilmembers Helen Gym, Jamie Gauthier, and Kendra Brooks, will proceed to the Office of the Mayor, and become law by June 28 if not vetoed by Mayor Jim Kenney.

Brooks, who has spoken publicly about her struggles with homelessness, spoke emotionally on the virtual meeting, held via Microsoft Teams, after council delivered its decisive votes.

“While waiving late rental fees may seem small, they can decide whether a family is put on the street or not,” Brooks said. “As somebody who has faced housing insecurity firsthand, I know that these protections will have enormous impact on Philadelphia families.”

While there is no set date for the expiration of Wolf’s state-of-emergency order, the new eviction moratorium should extend far past the one currently in place at the statewide level, which is set to expire on July 10.

During the meeting’s allotted time for public comment, renters and landlords weighed in on the proposed measures. Victor Pinckney Sr., vice president of the Homeowner’s Association of Philadelphia County, an organization that advocates for property owners, called into the meeting to speak against the bills.

“If these bills are passed, it will have a devastating effect on rental property owners,” Pinckney said. “I currently have a tenant that has not paid rent since February. That predates any COVID-19 emergency period. I have another tenant who is working and has the money to pay, but knows he doesn’t have to. And so it isn’t paid, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Sherry Thomas, a director at the Legal Clinic for the Disabled, spoke in support of the bills.

“We represent people with injuries or illnesses like strokes, brain injuries, diabetes, respiratory diseases and mental health diagnoses,” Thomas said. “These folks are already at high risk of contracting COVID and now are worrying about being evicted during a pandemic. Housing is a human right, and it literally saves lives.”

Besides the extended eviction moratorium and waived late fees, the bills would also allow renters to recover damages from landlords who lock them out illegally and make back rent payments over time. The proposed legislation would also create an “eviction diversion program” set to run through December, requiring landlords to enter a mediation process with tenants before seeking eviction.

Another resolution passed calls on state and federal legislatures to organize a financial relief program for municipalities to be used to subsidize a portion of rent owed to landlords.

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